Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In This Sign You Will Conquer

Illuminated shadows...
An edifying umbra.
A sign from heaven...
Under this victory.

The Secret Vatican Archives
Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus: Constantine I
Age: 40

He was born in Naissus, Moesia Superior to the Roman General, Constantinus Chlorus and his wife Helena. A seasoned campaigner and a shrewd politician, Constantine eventually climbed to the rank of Caesar.

Legend has it, that on the eve of his battle with Maxentius, he heard a voice from the heavens saying, "In hoc signo vinces" - "in this sign you will conquer." The sign was the Labarum, the Chi-Rho of Christ. There has long been historical speculation that Constantine fabricated this story to gain the support of the Christians who were an organized fifth column in the Eastern Empire.

Note: Constantine's progeny will be limited to a single child. Crispus, son by the concubine Minervina.

Estimated lifespan: 65 Years.
- Pax Romana
by Jonathan Hickman
The story goes that Constantine's conversion to Christianity began when he saw a vision of the Chi-Rho with the understanding that if he put the symbol on his banners he would be victorious in the following battle. He did, he was, and so the legend goes.

Some see this as one of the greatest moments in Christian history. Others view it as one of the worst. My opinion tends to be with the latter. From this incident came the rise of Christendom as a political and military empire. With such power, the focus of Christianity at large shifted from the spiritual and the Kingdom of Heaven to the physical and the Kingdom of the World. And all the excesses power in that kingdom brings.

Of course, that's just my opinion.

But we see the ramifications of it still today. In modern times, the Church/church is no longer in political power or control for the most part. But many Christians, for some reason, wish it was. Many think the problems of the nation or the world would be solved if a Christian government ruled. I think it would only make things worse. As a professor of mine liked to say, it's hard to raise a rebellious fist against the state when it's got you wrapped in big bear hug. What this means is, should you end up disagreeing with some of the worldly, political decisions of said Christian government, it could declare you a heretic or a heathen for such disagreement. For the spiritual and political would be seen as one. If you disagree with immigration policy, you are disagreeing with God.

Sadly, the political and spiritual are already inseparably entwined in the minds of many American Christians. Just take a step back some time and observe some Christians denouncing such things a socialism as if they were a blatant violation of one of the 10 Commandments.

Or just watch the current presidential debates. Look at how much faith and religion play into it. Or, at least the lip service being paid to faith and religion. Did Constantine really see the Chi-Rho, or was he just pandering to Christians for support? Do the current candidates really believe, or are they just pandering to your religious sensibilities for your political support?

Whether Constantine saw the symbol or not is, like most things in the end, irrelevant. The legend says he did and that it was God's approval upon his rule. And that is the story we tell. Honestly, it makes a good a story. But did he really see, really believe, and really convert? Meh, I kinda doubt it. But history says he did. Who am I to question a story?

A note on the Chi-Rho. It's a symbol made from the first two letters used to spell "Christ" in Greek. It kind of looks like an X with a P in the middle of it. Early Christians: they liked to abbreviate. This is also why we have X-Mas. It's not an attempt to remove the "Christ" in "Christmas." It's just a shorthand way of writing it. Look through my notes from seminary. You're not going to see the word "Christ" written in there a whole lot. But you will see the Chi-Rho everywhere, or even just a simple Chi or X. It's just a lot easier to write when you're mentioning Christ several times in every note you take.

It's not evil. It's pragmatic.

Another thought. With the Chi-Rho so wrapped up in this story of Constantine, and his use of the symbol on his banners, I feel the need to ask if it has become more a symbol of Constantine than of Christ. For me, whenever I see it, yes, I realize that it signifies Christ, but the memory of this legend of Constantine is also slipped into that recognition.

And so the story goes.

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